Dan Blair - Addicted To Technology

Raspberry Pi 2

Out of nowhere we all woke up to some news from the Raspberry Pi Foundation, there was a new Raspberry Pi. This new device comes only a few months after the Model B+ and uses the exact same layout of the board. They are of course competing with some other boards like the Banana Pro and the Banana Pi M2 hardware wise.

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Banana Pi D1 Review

The Banana Pi D1 is probably the coolest dev board I have received lately. It comes form the Banana Pi folks but it is something all of it’s own. At first I wasn’t sure what I was getting but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it was an open source IP camera. The device is tiny, 38mm x 38mm squared with a small camera hanging off of a ribbon cable at the top.

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Banana Pro Review

So the Banana Pro arrived today. I have been reviewing Banana Pis left, right, and center lately. This Banana Pro is the successor to the Banana Pi, similar to the Banana Pi M2 but not quite the same because it is by the folks at Lemaker.. the other developers of the Banana Pi.

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The Banana Pi M2

Not too long ago I reviewed the Banana Pi R1, and even before that I reviewed the Banana Pi original. These boards keep coming out and they keep getting better. The new M2 is not out yet at the time of writing this but the Banana Pi website lists it as coming soon. There are a lot of interesting new features which may make you reconsider this as opposed to another device for one of your projects.

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Acer Switch 10

I have used a lot of laptops, and I have used a lot of tablets but the Acer Switch 10 is something different. The Switch is both a laptop and a tablet. It is a tablet when you want to play games and it is a laptop when you need to get some work done. The Acer Switch has a detachable keyboard which is sturdy when attached but easy to remove.

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The Oculus Rift DK2

Virtual Reality is not a new technology, certainly not something that was imagined recently. The Oculus Rift was one of the first devices to actually do a good job with creating an immersive environment. The DK2 is quite an improvement from the original Oculus Rift, which was hard to do considering the first Oculus Rift was so amazing to begin with.

Virtual reality is difficult to describe to people who have not actually tried it. It is not quite like you are sitting at your desk with a box on your head (google cardboard), it is more like you have actually traveled to the virtual place. If a simulation is good enough, it can feel like you are really there. This is amplified if you are actually sitting or standing like the character in the simulation and if you are wearing a good headset to cancel the noise.

Hardware

The hardware is a lot better this time around. The resolution is now 960 X 1080 per eye, which is noticeable. There is an additional position tracking unit which tracks the Oculus Rift, and your device’s orientation.

Precise, low-latency positional tracking opens the door to entirely new interactive and gameplay opportunities. Great positional tracking is a key requirement for virtual reality; with it, the Oculus Rift can accurately map all of your real world head movements.

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The DK2 uses low persistence OLED Displays. This basically eliminated the motion blur and jutter of the display, which is what makes you feel sick most of the time.

DK2 uses a low persistence OLED display to eliminate motion blur and judder, two of the biggest contributors to simulator sickness. Low persistence makes the scene appear visually stable, increasing the potential for presence.

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Over all the DK2 has a lot better hardware. The specs below will outline what is on board of the headset.

Display
Resolution 960 x 1080 per eye
Refresh Rate 75 Hz, 72 Hz, 60 Hz
Persistence 2 ms, 3 ms, full
Viewing Optics
Viewing Optics 100° Field of View (nominal)
Interfaces
Cable 10′ (detachable)
HDMI HDMI 1.4b
USB Device USB 2.0
USB Host USB 2.0 (requires DC Power Adapter)
Positional Tracker USB USB 2.0
Internal Tracking
Sensors Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer
Update Rate 1000 Hz
Positional Tracking
Sensors Near Infrared CMOS Sensor
Update Rate 60 Hz
Weight
Weight 0.97 lbs (without cable)
Included Accessories
Included Accessories HDMI to DVI Adapter DC Power Adapter International Power Plugs Nearsighted lens cups Lens cleaning cloth

Software

Software wise there is a lot to choose from experiment wise. Immediately I downloaded a tour of the solar system. This blew my mind away. One of my biggest dreams (not surprisingly) is to go to space one day. The experience was great, and it really sold me on virtual reality. On the Oculus Share site, there are loads of software experiments to download for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

There is also a plugin for the Unity game engine to develop games for the Oculus Rift. The SDK allows you to easily build games and simulations for the rift.

The Oculus Rift is paired with the publicly available Oculus SDK which includes source code, documentation, and samples to help you hit the ground running. The Oculus Rift and the Oculus SDK currently support Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Over all developing for the rift is easier than you would expect, if you have a little game dev knowledge to begin with.

Usability

The device isn’t terrible to set up. There are a lot more cords than you would expect. The device I tried it out first on was my laptop at work, a 2013 Mac Book Pro. Setting up the Oculus on the Mac wasn’t terrible but it was difficult to get the displays configured correctly.

If you are going to use the Oculus Rift, the best configuration I have found so far is to just mirror your display, I found that sending my display to the rift as a secondary display just caused a bunch of issues including rotating the display. After all was said and done, it was super easy to download and try out different experiments.

Conclusion

Overall the device is great. The setup was a little frustrating. On Windows it was admittedly a lot easier to set up than Mac, which is fine because my work laptop isn’t really for gaming anyways haha. It is going to be interesting to see what kind of technologies are released for this in the near future. It is also going to be interesting to see what Samsung does with their Gear VR, based on the Oculus Rift.

Pics

Here are some fun pictures of us using it at the office.

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The PHP Cookbook Book Review

Not too long ago a good friend of mine, Alex Trauzzi came to me with a book he had received for Winnipeg’s PHP user group which I have attended from time to time. This book was the PHP cookbook by David Skalr & Adam Trachtenberg. The book is a beginner’s guide to PHP. It includes Solutions & examples for learning PHP programming. Some of the learning outcomes of the book include learning basic data types (ie: Strings, Numbers, Arrays, and dates / times), programming building blocks, and web programming. It is basically what you would expect learning PHP and makes for a great new user reference guide.

One way that this book stands out from others like it is the quality of the code samples in the book. The authors are not trying to intimidate new users like many do in their manuals but instead write clean, easy to read, and to the point code which illustrates their point.

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The Book

The learning outcomes of the book include:

  • Basic data typers
    • String
    • Numbers
    • Arrays
    • Dates / Times
  • Program building blocks
    • variables
    • functions
    • classes
    • objects
  • Web programming
    • Cookies
    • forms
    • sessions
    • authentication
  • Database access
    • PDO
    • SQLite
  • RESTful API clients
    • HTTP
    • XML
    • OAuth

The book also covers designing robust, secure applications, encryption, and working with libraries. The book accomplishes all these learning outcomes in an efficient manor and does not stay from the topic being covered. A lot of the content in this book is essential to becomming a developer proficient in PHP developing APIs, web applications, or even just simple websites.

The Authors

The book is written by 2 knowledgable PHP developers.

David Sklar is an an independent technology consultant. In addition to writing previous additions of PHP Cookbook, he is also the author of learning PHP 5 and Essential PHP Tools.

Adam Trachtenberg is the directory of the LinkedIn Developer Network. He’s the author of Upgrading to PHP 5 and the previous versions of the PHP Cookbook.

I recommend this book. If you are in Winnipeg, keep your eyes on the PHP user group if you are hungry for more knowledge. A few more PHP books for your convenience:

  1. The PHP Cookbook
  2. PHP The Good Parts
  3. PHP and MySQL Web Development (4th Edition)

PHP is one of the most versatile and widely used web languages out there. You can use it to do some really impressive tasks and although some people are against it, there is no aruging that it is really popular as a language. This book will give you the foundations for working with frameworks like Laravel.

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The Nexus Player

The Nexus Player is Google’s first Android TV device, it is a device that is like a large hockey puck. It is surprisingly small but very exciting when you actually play with it. There was a slight delay getting the devices out because of a lack of game pads, which is one of the best ways to use the player. The Nexus Player is Chromecast enabled but if you don’t have your device handy to stream to it you can launch an app directly from it.

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Raspberry Pi A+

Not too long ago the Raspberry Pi B+ was released to an unsuspecting community, now the little brother the A+ has been announced. This is a smaller and cheaper alternative to the B+ or even the original A Pi. The board is nearly identical to the B+ with the exception of a few milimeters which have been removed because of the network controller being removed, and of course the network port. The USB controller is also inside the Broadcom processor which means we have 1 USB to save on cost. The price of the unit is about $20 depending on where you live.

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The Banana Pi R1

The BananaPi R1 has been released and I have just received mine. It doesn’t feel like too long ago that I reviewed the Banana Pi and talked about how much better of a machine it is. Since then I have picked up 4 more BPIs and now I have my R1. The R1 is an open source router that has a BPI built in. The router features a 4 port switch and wifi. Of course you will need to make your own case (perhaps 3D printed?) and it comes as just a single PCB.

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